Friday, January 27, 2017

Holiday thoughts

published 11 Dec 2016
IT IS 14 days before Christmas and in my home there is no sign of the holidays. No wreath on the door, no dancing lights, no tree. Certainly no trite carols on loop.
Last year we purchased a nine-foot tree and had a fairly happy time setting it up, engaging even the children’s friends. But now that the novelty of moving into a new place had worn off, I am back to the usual holiday lethargy—wishing, instead, that the season were over and that everything would get back to normal, whatever normal may mean. Now I don’t even know where I stored all the d├ęcor after I had put them away.
I have plenty of reasons to feel this way.
First is the sorry state of transportation. Getting from one place to another is oppressive as it is at any time of the year and at any time of day. Everything gets magnified tenfold in December. For a good 10-11 kilometer distance, one has to set aside a good two hours one way. It’s decidedly longer for those who take buses or trains. What alternatives do you have? Boorish cab drivers who demand extra payment before they consider taking you in and who have no qualms turning you away when you are not headed in the direction they are taking. You turn to either Grab or Uber--but the surges, even late at night when you’ve killed time at the office and found ways to be productive, or binge watch your favorite series, can still make you cry.
Second is the pressure to give presents. I do not mean the people who are truly close to us, to whom we want to give tokens of friendship or love or gratitude, and who will definitely feel happy and appreciated with a well-thought-out gift. I mean instead the mad rush to the malls just picking up something—anything—because turning up empty-handed does not help spread the holiday cheer.
Third, the expenses. This may not be a problem for those used to spending without thinking about the flip side: generating revenues. It is as if there is an exhortation to mankind to spend on food, on clothes, on big-ticket acquisitions. Perhaps there is the cushion of a bonus—for some. Woe to the few who do not know whether their employers would be human or compassionate enough to release their salaries, much less their 13th month pay, on time.
Fourth is the contrived environment of cheer. Parties and reunions are being scheduled left and right. Food is consumed in copious, conspicuous amounts. People go to malls even when they have nothing to do there. See people they don’t even feel like seeing. Wear their jaws out smiling for photos. Spend thousands on their hair or use that insanely expensive bag for when they meet up with people they don’t care about but want to impress.
All these, in the backdrop of hypocrisy and duplicity and all the chilling things happening amidst us these days.
So who’s feeling Christmassy yet?
***
Now the New Year—well that is a different story altogether.
I have always loved the New Year holidays. The kids and I are not big on the noise but we appreciate a good vantage point from where we can observe the fireworks from all parts of the city. I wrote about this in my New Year piece, “Charmed,” earlier this year (http://manilastandardtoday.com/opinion/columns/chasing-happy-by-adelle-chua/195845/charmed.html). There is something about fireworks—how the burst of colors lights up the sky and serves as backdrop for the introspection one should be having as the last few minutes of the old year pass.
The thought of crossing over from one year to another contains a significance that trumps all other reasons for celebrating. In the past 12 months, we might have been naive, foolish, overbearing, lazy, misguided, arrogant, foolish. We might have encountered storms that, as I wrote a few weeks back, shook us to our core. These may have made us doubt our worth, become terrified of trusting others, question whether life is fair and whether the future is still worth being hopeful about.
The answer to the last question—a resounding yes.
We do shun tradition and superstition on New Year’s Eve. For instance, why buy 12 varieties of round fruit or splurge in an insane amount of food the family won’t be able to finish? Why wave a half-full piggy bank into the air while stashing none into your real savings account? Why create a list of resolutions and then fall back into the same old patterns after just a few weeks?
What we—well, at least I—embrace is the opportunity to begin all over again without discarding the old. In each area of your life – career, family, relationships, friendships, finances, what were the accomplishments and, most importantly, what were the failures? Why were there failures? Look inwards and examine your strengths and vulnerabilities. Look outside and anticipate threats while identifying opportunities. And then, deliberately and realistically, under each area, create a vision of yourself by the end of next year, in three years, in 10. What is the plan—and more importantly, how does one get to that?
It is also important to recognize the importance of baby steps. We may not shed our old selves drastically, but what is crucial is that we are never stuck in the place we were in yesterday.
These days it is so easy to drown in the exuberance. Let’s try not to lose our heads, this season and onwards.
adellechua@gmail.com

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